Festival of lights set for next March/April gets canceled

Event canceled after CW6 exclusive story brought it to the attention of local officials

A couple of weeks ago, we shared the concerns fire officials had about a planned festival of flame-lit lanterns that float freely in the sky.  Now, a follow-up to that CW6 exclusive. The festival, which was scheduled for next March 18th and April 1st on the Pala Indian Reservation, has been canceled.

There’s no doubt that for many, these festivals are a joyous experience. People gather, usually in desert settings like the Mojave, write messages on the lanterns, light them, and set them free to float off to wherever the wind takes them. Now, the one set for two days in March and April of 2017 at the Pala raceway, is off.

“Certainly from a fire safety standpoint, we’re pleased,” Cal Fire Capt. Kendal Bortisser said on Tuesday. Bortisser and his colleagues pleased that the Pala Tribe made the decision to cancel the festival, though it may be re-scheduled to another place, perhaps in the desert.

“There were a lot of folks that worked behind the scenes to bring out the dangers of this event and bring them to the forefront. Chief Ravago from the Pala Indian Reservation Fire Department was real influential in helping out and bringing these dangers to the attention of the folks that put this event on,” Bortisser said.

Though the Pala Raceway is an open space with no vegetation, the concern was the lanterns wouldn’t have to float far to get above plenty of vegetation that hasn’t burned for decades. And memories of wildfire in that area are still fresh. “We had a wildfire that was about 70, 80-acres out there just last summer that continued to burn. We had 95% containment on that fire, the winds kicked up and we had a whole new fire start as a result of the winds,” said Bortisser.

When Gary Buzel interviewed Pala Mission Indian Tribe Chairman Robert H. Smith, Smith said the tribe was confident the flame-lit lanterns would not pose a fire hazard and he said if a fire did erupt, the tribe had the resources to handle it.

But since our story aired, a change of heart. The flames will not be lit, the lanterns will not fly.

CW6 reached out to the Pala Tribe for a comment, but no one answered the phone at the tribal office. We also reached out to “Rise.” That’s the company that stages these festivals. They didn’t return our email. They also didn’t respond to Gary Buzel when he reached out to them a couple of weeks ago for comment. If the Pala festival is re-scheduled, we’ll let you know when and where.


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